January 29, 2005: I haven't been lazy the past month. I've been run off my feet, actually. At the moment (and for the past two weeks), I've been working on changes my editor wants for Cemetery of the Nameless. It's been quite an interesting process, really, and I've been enjoying it immensely. I just wish that I could spend all my time doing it. What makes this sort of thing (and writing in general) difficult is when you have to start and stop a lot (in my case, for work), because you "fall out of the story". Now there's not a writer on the planet who can do a whole novel without stopping, that's very obvious, but if writing a novel is all you're doing, it's much easier to stay in the headspace you need. Composing music is like this, too, and I'm sure that most of the other arts are, as well. By going to work every morning and spending the day with your mind occupied on all kinds of other things, when it comes time to sit down and work on writing again, you often find you're sitting there staring at a blank page or computer screen wondering what the heck you're going to write.
With the rewriting/editing I'm doing at the moment, the problem isn't quite as complex, but there are still moments of mental blankness. My real problem will occur when I begin work on my unfinished novel again. I've left those poor souls for the last two weeks, frozen in my imagination and by the time I get back to them, we'll have to get acquainted all over again. The solution, obviously, is to get myself into a position where it is financially viable for me to be able to write all day long. That would be a little bit like heaven. I'll need to have a bestseller with Cemetery or win the lottery for that to happen. Wonder how many other authors are in the same situation? ;)
My trumpet playing is improving -- rather too slowly, though. Again the time factor rears its ugly head. Still, I try really hard to work at it every day, even if it's only for 15 or 20 minutes. Strength is returning but my range is not what I would like it to be at this point. The other thing I'm trying to do is to get comfortable with improvising. On a keyboard, this is no problem, but I find that my skills on trumpet are not up to what I'm able to hear in my brain (and which I could easily play on a keyboard. I bought some of those "play along" jazz CD/book combinations since the hardest thing about learning how to improvise is to find a rhythm section that's willing to sit there and play hour after hour while you try to figure out what you're doing. I did plenty of that when I was younger and since I played organ and did bass with my left hand and pedals, all anyone needed was a drummer and we could just go. Doubly fortunate, my brother was a drummer, so learning to improvise on a keyboard instrument was not a onerous at all. Now, if you play a wind instrument, you have to have some sort of chord structure behind you that you can listen to and build the harmonic structure of your improvising around. These CDs are an excellent compromise. It's going to be awhile before I'll get up and do this in public with the Advocats (the big band I've been playing with), but that day will come in a few months.
Jim Capaldi: I learned with tremendous sadness late Friday night that Jim Capaldi, drummer and founding member of Traffic and a writer of many, many great songs had passed away. Traffic has always held a special place with me. I've been a big Winwood fan since "Gimme Some Lovin" (and I also can't tell you how shocked I was to find out the person singing that song was a skinny, 15-year-old white kid from Manchester, England), and when Traffic was formed, I instantly fell in love with the band. I have most of their albums, but only saw the band once and that was also a special occasion. I'd met my (eventual) wife, Vicki, in May of 1970 and the first concert we ever attended was to see Traffic at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, when they were touring in support of "John Barleycorn Must Die" (still one of my favorite albums). It was a magical concert -- so much music from just 3 musicians. I also remember being quite impressed with the musicality of Capaldi's playing. There are certainly flashier drummers, but you always got the feeling that Capaldi knew exactly what the music needed and played no more than that. It was always about playing music and not about showing off. I know people who met Jim Capaldi and they uniformly said that he was a genuinely nice guy. That's always an added bonus with somebody who's a bit of a hero. We won't see his like again. My lasting memory will be him onstage at the Capitol playing percussion and singing John Barleycorn with Steve Winwood. RIP Jim!
February 24, 2005: A lot has happened since I've written last. (Isn't this beginning to sound precisely like one of those overheated letters that young women wrote at the beginning of the last century?) Well, a lot has happened. So there!
I've finished my edit, doing a general slice and dice on my publisher's edit. Having not looked at the ms. for several almost a year, I had a lot more "perspective" on what I'd written. Having done a fair bit of editing in the last little while also helped me when I pulled out the "literary hatchet". It's funny how those things happen. A year ago, I couldn't see what should be removed -- even though it was obvious that the novel read too long. Every time I would look at the thing with an eye to pull something out, I would come up with several reasons why it had to be in there. Moving on to the next "gray area" in the text, the same thing would happen. In fairness, my editor at RendezVous did a good job in focusing on the more "troublesome" of the two protagonists, and many good points were brought forth about making this character more attractive to the reader. I'm very grateful for that. What I was able to do (other than agreeing with 95% of their suggestions, was to remove anything that really didn't advance the plot enough. They were all good passages, but far from being deathless prose. So now the book is stronger and less long. That's a good combination. Maybe watching all those deleted scenes from the DVDs we buy has started paying off!
I also took a shot at the interior design of the book and that was a lot of fun. I don't get to do too many lengthy documents at work, and generally those have a whole whack of style sheets and then tons of exceptions to those style sheets, so that by the time you get to the end of a job, you've almost typeset everything on the fly anyway. In this case I really enjoyed working with only a handful of typefaces and coming up with a simple, easy to read design. There are a few non-typical things in the front matter of the book, but basically it's pretty well "click and shoot" to format the novel. I also have the cover art pulled together now, so I guess it's on to the new, currently unnamed novel again. I've left those poor characters standing around waiting for me long enough.
March 11, 2005: Things are finally beginning to get organized for the launch of Cemetery and my press kit is going out to various places. All of this takes a lot of time and between writing,designing, organizing databases for media and bookstore contacts, going to work every day and trying to keep SOME kind of forward momentum going on my new novel, life is very busy, to say the least.
To east that a bit, we're going to spend a few days next weekend at a friend's 175-year-old log cabin near Perth, Ontario. It is probably too rustic for a lot of people (2 wood stoves for heat -- one of which you also have to cook on, but it does have electricity and running water. (The first time my wife visited, it had neither.) It's very secluded and my darling wife and I are going to sit back, do some reading, watch the odd DVD on our laptop and I'm going to do plenty of writing!
The date of Cemetery's launch has now been set: May 18th. (Click HERE for details) Anyone is more than welcome to show up. I'll probably read a bit, sign books and just mainly celebrate. This novel has been a long time coming and I want to savour the moment. If you're reading this here, there will be a private party afterwards and rickblechta.com visitors can get an invite. Just contact me by clicking HERE, and I'll get you on the guest list.
Finally, if you run a book club and would like to have a crime-writing-author-with-a-new-book-out speak to your group, please get in touch with me. I enjoy doing things like this, and people who've asked me out previously have said that they've had a good time, too. Book early and avoid disappointment!
And now The Rant: I have been increasingly disturbed lately by the way everyone seems to take advantage of other people. In the past 20 years this has expanded exponentially, and since "everyone does it", it's also become much more accepted. Well, I DON'T accept it! I was reading an article on "nanny abuse" in The Walrus this morning and it just disgusted me. Wow, what a wonderful thing: abusing immigrant women whom you bring in your house to take care of your children so you can go out to work. Some of the accounts were absolutely horrendous. The people who do this are also setting a terrible example for their children. Don't think they don't see and understand what you're doing! It's just one more example of how rampant greed and dishonesty are in our society. Why can't we all just treat each other as we would like to be treated? I'd like to think that folks who don't do right in life have to come back in their next life and will have done to them what they did. But it would also be good if they knew why bad things were happening to them. Learn to live by The Golden Rule people! The world will become a better place overnight.
March 29, 2005: Wow! Twice in one month! Blechta, I'm amazed. Actually, I have several reasons for doing another update. First (and let's get the self-serving stuff out of the way), my Appearances schedule for signings and readings related to the release of my new novel, Cemetery of the Nameless (have I told you about that?), is beginning to fill up. I'm going to be all over southern Ontario and in Montreal, and I have to say that I'm really looking forward to it. Several of the signings are with CWC compadre Vicki Delany who has been getting some terrific press for her new novel (vickidelany.com) and those should be a lot of fun. If you're anywhere near any of the venues that I'll be at, please drop by for a chat (and hopefully, purchase a personally inscribed book!).
Second reason for writing: Today is my son Karel's 26th birthday. I've dedicated the new novel to him because on my second research trip to Vienna, he came along. It was his first trip out of North America and this beautiful city grabbed hold of him and shows no signs of letting go. We had an absolutely wonderful time, strolling on the Graben, sightseeing and enjoying some of Vienna's justly-famed pastries. I think the best day of the trip was when we rented bikes and rode all over the Prater, Vienna's big park on the Danube, and wound up at the Praterspit on the extreme southern end. That location wound up in the book. We were there on a perfect day in summer, but I added some blustery, late-Fall weather for a bit more atmosphere. So, with most of the action set in Vienna, it seems only logical that I should dedicate the novel to Karel, right? Hope he makes it back there really soon!
April 15, 2005: Spring has really arrived here in southern Ontario. We have daffodils, scilla and crocus'. Every day when I go out to walk I hear more of my favourite birds singing in the trees. (The goldfinches arrived overnight.) But all that pales into insignificance compared to the fact that Cemetery should be off press and into the bookstores in very short order! This novel has been the hardest to "give birth to" since much of the material is very close to my heart mostly because of the city in which it's set. I love Vienna and would have liked nothing more than to check into our friends Tina and Kaled's pension for 3 or 4 months and write the whole damn book on the spot! We did get to spend about 18 days in this beautiful city over the course of two trips and we all have many fond memories of out time there. Hopefully, the "Viennese" parts of the book will speak to readers in the ways that I want them to. It really is a magnificent city.
I'm going to be on the road a lot of time over the next two months and that's going to be fun. When I was doing the rock & roll thing in my youth, I spent a fair bit of time on the road and often the only thing that kept me sane was reading -- usually crime writing. I'll be doing sort of the same thing this time out -- but from the other side of the table, as it were. Being on the road is where I learned to love Rex Stout and Dick Francis. In retrospect, it was certainly a lot more fun than it probably was at the time it happened, but I find myself really keyed up to do all these appearances. I also get to go to Montreal and Ottawa (two of my favourite places) and we're doing the inaugural book signing at a new mystery book store in Kingston. Oxford Book Shop in London has a terrific crew and Bookroom in Windsor sounds really interesting. And then there are all those Chapters stores. It should be a terrific time. All the up-to-date info is on Appearances.
An OT question: Is it just me or are the cars that the auto manufacturers are putting out at the moment supremely ugly? They all seem to look like goddam tanks! Big square bodies, small windows and people behind the wheel made to look like midgets seem to be the order of the day. The last time I remember cars like this is in the '50s. Maybe it had something to do with "Fortress North America" mentality and the fact that people want to feel that they have a honkin' great mass of metal enclosing them. Do they think they're driving through combat zones? What happened to sleek lines? Graceful design? Boy, am I glad I'm not looking for a new car at the moment (for more reasons than current designs!). I would be hard pressed to find something new that I would want to own.
June 3, 2005: I haven't been able to find ANY time to enter any thoughts here since mid-April. If you've seen the list of appearances on that page, it not hard to understand why. That only tells part of the story, since I've been working hard for the CWC trying to arrange for our Readathon at the Toronto Reference Library, something which had to be cancelled at the last minute due to construction on Yonge Street. It's kind of hard to carry on a reading to the accompaniment of jackhammers. That was a big blow to me personally, because I've spent a lot of time working on this and it would have been a really excellent promotion for the organization, of that I'm completely sure. Still, we learned a lot about what it will take to pull this off effectively. Next year, we will come back bigger and better than ever!
I was very gratified by how many people showed up at the launch for Cemetery of the Nameless. A lot of books were sold, and our very dear friend, Tina, who with her husband Kaled runs the most excellent pension we've stayed in while in Vienna to research Cemetery, sent a Sacher torte -- direct from the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. It arrived in perfect shape and was the hit of the launch. Many thanks, Tina, for your very thoughtful gift!
One small thing about Cemetery that really bug me is the two errors in the Prologue! I cannot believe that I missed them through the editing process. I have no one to blame but myself since no one at RendezVous could have been expected to catch them. So get out you pens and correct your copies. The Cemetery of the Namesless is in the southeast corner of the city not the southwest! Also, if you look very closely at the cover, you'll notice that the white porcelain disk is at the bottom of the cross, NOT the center. There are very obvious crucifixes in that area. It's amazing how you can read something so many times and yet not catch some very obvious errors. Now, most people won't know anything about this, but anyone who has visited the cemetery will certainly know -- especiallly if they're from Vienna. My sincerest apologies!
June 14, 2005: My darling wife and I are off to the UK for three weeks of research for my new novel, visiting some very good friends along the way, and then a week in Yorkshire where I'm hoping to get some serious work done on the novel I have on the go. Since I have a gun to my head on that (It has to be finished by September 1st. Yikes!), I had better get down to it! The clock is ticking...
The present round of signings are finished and we're in the middle of lining up more for when I get back in July (gone 3 weeks) and I'm hoping by then that Cemetery of the Nameless will have gotten some reviews. Apparently, there was supposed to be one in Toronto's Globe & Mail this past Saturday (Margaret Cannon's column) but it got bumped due to space considerations. Sometimes I feel like I'm snakebit. Not having had any reviews with the book having been out almost 2 months is pretty damned discouraging. I know what part of the problem is and it's beyond me to do anything about that, but there aren't many opportunities for someone like me who's relatively unknown to get many reviews or any other media attention for that matter and I just don't want this book to disappear without a trace. I have too much invested in it emotionally. It's a darned good book. I have lots of emails from people who have read it (and they're not just friends), telling me how much they've enjoyed the story, but face it, that ain't going to sell a lot of books. All the bookstore appearances help a lot, but that's selling one at a time. So if you're reading this and have enjoyed Cemetery, please tell other people about it and ask them to purchase the book. It should be available just about anywhere on the planet. All the big online stores are listing it. Strike one for the little guy!
Yeah, I know I'm whining, but I'm just feeling a little bit down after all the work I've put in the past 6 weeks (not to mention all the years I've been waiting to get it published!) to see so little forward motion. I'm also feeling very burnt out and some time off should certainly help. Next time I write, I promise I'll be more positive. Maybe I'll actually have some reviews -- good ones!
Take care of yourselves while I'm away.
July 4, 2005: I’m writing this entry from a friend’s flat in Sheffield, UK, having been over here for almost three weeks, mostly doing research, but also indulging in some walking, visiting very good friends, and just enjoying the countryside. We started in the town of Dunoon, Argyll, which is just across the Firth of Clyde from Glasgow, where we next went. Then it was down to Staffordshire to look at the county town of Stafford and to spend a day in Birmingham, which also figures in the story. The past week has been spent in the Sheffield flat while I pull all the research together and then make changes to the ms to coincide with what was learned. My wife has been indispensible, making appointments, taking notes and photos, and making sure that I’m asking the right questions, too! Expect a bit of a photo gallery when I get a chance.
Also, I’ll get it up on the site soon, but while I was away, Cemetery received a glowing review from the highly influential Margaret Cannon in Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper. To say the least, I’m very pleased that she liked the book so much. They even wanted my photo for the column. Peter Robinson (among many other CWC members -- thanks to all!) sent me a congratulatory email, and then asked how I expected my ugly mug would sell more books. One can always count on friends...
Next up on the promotional front will be some more signings this summer, continuing into September with one in New York City at McNally Robinson, a Canadian Independent bookseller from the west who have opened their first store in the US. Also taking part will be Lyn Hamilton and Vicki Delany. That should be a lot of fun. If you’re a friend and living in the NY area, you are certainly going to be sent an invite -- from the Canadian Consulate, no less!
Now back to work on the new novel...
August 9, 2005: This entry isn't going to be about writing (other than the fact that I'm doing it to communicate with you!), but it's something that I think is important and growing in importance with each passing day.
A few years ago we were driving south from the Bruce Penninsula with a friend after a very nice, Ontario summer weekend on Georgian Bay. We stopped at the farm of a person we'd met at a country market to buy some lamb he'd raised. To say the least, the meat was spectacular and the enjoyment of it got me thinking. Most of the time we simply buy our food from the local supermarket without thinking much about where it's coming from or what its quality really is. We can buy almost anything at anytime of the year, but is it really good food?
I'm sure you've eaten the horrible red things that pass for tomatoes most of the time. Is one really worth paying for when you compare it to what a tomato tastes like fresh from the garden in August? My question is: why bother eating it? The next question is: who raised something this substandard and why?
The answer more and more is some big corporation did. They grow those tomatoes because they last long and survive transport much better. Most are picked green and gassed so they change color. (Still hungry?) Flavor and nutrition are far down the list of valuable "attributes". The big corporations and growers are also pushing small farms out of existence. Increasingly, your food can come from anywhere, have anything done to it and you're none the wiser. This is where the penny dropped for me.
I decided I wanted to know where my food was coming from. I want to know the people who grow it and I want to pay them a fair price for their effort. The only way to do that is to do a lot of leg work (assuming you don't live in farm country and already have the connections). We started sourcing as much of our food as possible, buying from the people who actually grow it. This took a lot of time, but the difference is amazing and well worth our effort.
Ever had broccoli picked right before you eat it? You won't recognize the flavor because it's completely different from the stuff picked several days ago and shipped to you from California. How about peaches right off the tree when they're at the peak of ripeness rather than chomping through one that was picked while still hard because it would get to a store 1000 miles away and still look good; meat that's been raised the way it's supposed to be, not in large barns where the animals are crowded and lead miserable, short existences and are pumped full of chemicals and antibiotics? (I refuse to get into a discussion on the rightness or wrongness of eating meat, so don't bother.)
Do you pay more for this privilege? Yes, and it's richly deserved. I really feel for farmers. They're at the bottom of the food ladder and they're getting shafted. Without them, no food. Yet they're the worst paid of everyone who is part of system bringing the food to your table. Why is that? They should be honored, not blasted for always complaining. It isn't an easy life, and yet some of them wouldn't give it up with their dying breath. I know. I've spoken to a lot of farmers over the past few years. They are uniformly great people. If you get into the developing world, the farmers plight is even worse. It should not be like this.
You can help stop it by joining the Real Food Movement. Since this entry has gone on long enough and I'm getting dizzy from standing on my little soapbox, I'm going to finish these thoughts another time, but please remember for now this one very good phrase: if you ate today, thank a farmer.
September 6, 2005: Bouchercon was held this past weekend in Chicago. Since I hadn't been to that city in many years (my dad was born there), I was really looking forward to it. The city didn't let me down, that's for sure. I'd heard that they had really worked hard to make it a showcase, but I wasn't prepared for the reality: clean, interesting, fun and they've left a lot of the old architecture to blend with the new and make something quite interesting. Because of Bouchercon events, I didn't get out to see it as much as I would have liked, but what I saw convinced me that a return visit would be well worthwhile.
As for B'con itself, it's always a mixed bag. I certainly enjoy seeing a lot of writers and fans that I've met over the years and only see when B'con is held. I tried to do that as much as possible. The panel I was on was quite good, if sparsely attended (there was a thriller panel with a lot of the big guns at the same time), but Charles Benoit, who was the moderator, asked some very penetrating questions and the other panelists: S.J. Rozan, Melodie Johnson Howe and Jonathan Santlofer had some very good answers. Me? I never know how I do on these things. Nobody said I came off like a knob, but nobody said I burned down the place, either. The thing that's depressing is that half the people there seem to be writers and they're all vying for attention. Unless you do, too, very few people will know you're there. I can self-promote as well as the next guy, I suppose, but I'd rather just sit and talk with people who want to talk with me, not accost attendees and try to talk them into buying my darn books. I generally come home from Bouchercon feeling vaguely depressed.
The other thing I was involved in was Meet the Canucks. This is a Friday night party that's basically a promotion for our group (the CWC) and gives us a chance to talk about what we're writing and present it to an audience that's primarily American and is not all that familiar with crime writing north of the border. This year, we did a trivia contest with our books as prizes. It went off quite well with Linwood Barclay who writes a very funny humour column for the Toronto Star and is the author of an equally funny mystery series, acting as the interviewer, while I asked the questions. From what people told me, it was informally voted 'Best Party' of Bouchercon and we've already been asked if we'll do it again next year. The nice thing for me as the organizer is that a lot of the membership dug in to help make MTC such a big success. Next year it will be even better!
There! I'm not "vaguely depressed" anymore! Now, back to work on the new novel and the RendezVous website...
September 29, 2005: I did a very interesting reading in Ottawa two days ago: playing a few pieces on French horn to go along with some passages from Cemetery. The idea was floated a few months ago and I agreed without really thinking how much work it would be. You see, I've been systematically wreaking what little I had in the way of horn chops by playing trumpet for the past year.
The reading was done along with Peter Schaffter (whose debut novel I blurbed) on piano. Fortunately, Peter was in the Toronto area and even came into town so rehearsal wasn't a problem. Trumpet playing stopped for 6 weeks (except for Advocats rehearsals and gigs) and it was at least an hour of horn every day. We played the St. Saens "Romance" and two movements from Mozart's 3rd Horn Concerto. It was a white knuckle ride from beginning to end and I did okay, but wasn't satisfied with the performance (as if I ever am satisfied).
The only problem was that the library had a snafu with the venue and we got bounced at the last minute out to a branch in the far reaches of the city. As a result, the turnout was pretty dismal. If it weren't for the loyal support of the Ottawa CWC members, there would have been about 6 people in the audience. Considering that I wasn't able to work for two days, had to foot the transportation costs (at least I could drive) as well as hotel and food, the return of selling six books (the CWC people had already bought copies) hardly made the effort worthwhile. That's sort of sad because I think the evening was a success otherwise. Ah, the life of a struggling writer! Peter Robinson says that book tours are an exercise in author humiliation. He may be right...
October 10, 2005: If you've cruised around the site, you've probably seen clues that I avidly follow the Toronto Blue Jays. In Shooting Straight in the Dark, there's also a mention of the Jays. One of the things that fuels my interest is the two fine radio broadcasters for the Jays: Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth. Sadly, Tom passed away last week. To my mind (and many others), Tom was THE VOICE of the Blue Jays. He broadcast every single Jays game from the first game until a day in June 2004 when his father died suddenly. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and only did a few more games after that. His run of consecutive games was over 4000!
I've listened to a lot of other baseball broadcasters over the years and the thing I admired so much about Tom is that he never let anything get in the way of the game and his lover of it. No matter who was visiting the booth or what was being said, you could tell Tom had his eagle eye on the field and deftly slipped in everything that was happening around the interview he was conducing -- no mean trick. He also was not a "homer". If the Jays were playing badly (which they did a lot in the years Tom was the play-by-play man), he would tell you about it in no uncertain terms. That balance gave him a lot of credibility. Tom's voice to me will always be the voice of the game, warm summer days or nights and baseball on the radio. Even though Jerry is still around, the shadow of Tom Cheek looms large. He will be very missed in seasons to come.
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